Pirronne Yousefzadeh '09 Directs Acting Thesis Production of Mad Forest

October 5, 2017

The Acting Class of 2018 will have the honor to inaugurate the new Flexible Performance Space in the brand new space, Lenfest Center of the Arts, with two outstanding productions. Starting October 11th and through October 21st you’ll have the chance to see The Seagull, directed by Faculty member and acclaimed Theatre director Andrei Serban and Mad Forest, under the helm of Alumna Pirronne Yousefzadeh ’09


We asked Pironne about the new space and the upcoming production, this is what she told us.


Along with The Seagull, this is the first production to be presented at the Performance Space at Lenfest. Could you tell us about this new space?  What are its challenges and opportunities?


The Performance Space at Lenfest is a very exciting venue for Mad Forest. It affords us a great deal of flexibility in terms of how we use the space, and it beautifully serves the epic scope of this play. Of course, every space has its idiosyncrasies and challenges, but in all of those, I believe there are hidden gifts and exciting opportunities.


Tell us about Mad Forest, why is it a play that we should see right now?


I am continually struck by the fact that Mad Forest was written on the heels of the Romanian Revolution, as the events were still very much unfolding. Though it was written with such a sense of urgency and immediacy, almost thirty years later, the play still asks us to consider the efficacy of protest, the power of a critical mass of people mobilizing, and the long road of progress. As we face a divisive administration and set of cultural and political issues and tensions here in the U.S. in 2017, I think that the questions and themes of Mad Forest are as relevant as ever.


Could you tell us about your approach to this play and the vision that you have for the production?


With the thematic questions of the play in mind, the team's approach has been largely rooted in a respect for and attention to detail of the history of the Romanian Revolution, as well as an interest in the space between that history and our current sociopolitical moment. In both cases, revolution and resistance were and have been spearheaded by a younger generation, and our production explores the past as it resonates with the present through the work of a brave, young ensemble.  


As a former Directing student, what does it mean to you to direct the Acting thesis at Lenfest?


Returning to Columbia to direct an Acting thesis is a moving homecoming for me. My time at Columbia as a student was profoundly formative and life-changing; I truly came into my own as a director at Columbia, found lifelong collaborators, and honed my aesthetic and craft. To be a part of the MFA actors' journey and transition from their training to their professional careers is my great honor and privilege.


What is the main goal of the Acting thesis? What do you expect from and for the students? 


The Acting thesis is the culminating production for the MFA actors, and I chose Mad Forest in part because it affords an ensemble cast a set of meaty, challenging, and exciting roles. The actors have engaged with the process by integrating their training into their own individual creative processes, and my hope is that through this experience, they are able to synthesize the principles they have learned at Columbia, collaborate with a full design team, deepen their access to their own artistry, and gain practice in working with directors who are new to them and their work.


What do you think Lenfest can contribute to the School of the Arts, its community, and the neighborhood?


I believe Lenfest can be a true gathering space and community center for the School of the Arts and the neighborhood in general. I hope that this leads to greater cross-department collaboration and an exciting exchange of ideas between students studying a diverse range of artistic mediums.


Caryl Churchill's Mad Forest tells the story of the people of Romania living under the oppressive silence of Communist dictator Nicolae CeauseŞcu. When a demonstration erupts into a revolution, euphoria, confusion, and madness overtake the lives of ordinary people. Is CeauseŞcu really dead? Who was shooting on December 22nd? Will Hungary invade Romania? A population, once prevented from speaking entirely, now shouts for explanations that no one can provide. Caryl Churchill captures this volatile period in Romania’s history through a mosaic of domestic moments, testimonials from the streets, and absurdist interludes.


You can get your tickets for both Acting thesis productions here. We also sat down with Andrei Serban to discuss the production of Acting thesis, The Seagull, and you can read that here